Thank Goodness, Christ’s Kingdom is not from this World

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November 25, 2018 Reign of Christ Sunday

John 18:33-37

I am old enough to remember much of the fanfare that surrounded the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana in the early eighties. We have witnessed that again with Prince William’s and Prince Harry’s weddings. There is a fascination that surrounds the concept of royalty. Which, if you think about it is ironic. It was the first people that came over to America several hundreds of years ago that were trying to escape that very system of monarchy! And now you can buy collectibles to celebrate these weddings and the royalty that accompany it.

Our world is enamored with fame and the thought of being a celebrity. This can be easily manifested when we view the monarchy of our sisters and brothers in the United Kingdom. It is not just royalty that we look to, but anyone that we deem to be famous. And, it starts early! There are teenagers in the social media world that have become so popular, and have attracted so many followers, that their lives are changed and not always for the better. We like to lift people up and make them “king.” However, when we do this, we often forget that there was already one raised up for us. In Jesus Christ, we find a different way; a way that is not of this world but comes to love the world.

The idea of Jesus being made a king is not a random event in John’s gospel. In the first chapter, Nathanael is called by Jesus and Nathanael says to him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (1:49) After feeding the five thousand, the people are enamored with the power and authority that Jesus encompasses. It is at this point that Jesus knows he must make his way to a different locale. “Perceiving then that they were about to come and taken him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” (6:15) When Jesus makes his final entry into Jerusalem, the crowd comes to welcome him, and “they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (12:13)

The trouble occurs when we try to make Jesus into something that he is not. The Israelites did this very thing. Jesus caught them by surprise. They were anticipating a mighty warrior that was going to come and banish the Roman Empire and make all things new at that time. They were not expecting the unyielding love that Jesus bore for them and all of humanity. They were not expecting the savior of the world to go to the cross and die a gruesome death that was only used for the worst criminals.

It is easy for us to avoid the truth when there are so many other options available for us. Pilate represents the Roman Empire and he exercises his power through force. Surely, force is the only thing that is going to stop him. However, the power that Jesus comes into the world bearing is one of love. In that love, we are called to change. Our perception of reality shifts and our idea of authority is tilted on its head.

As we were reminded last week in the gospel of Mark, there will be birth pangs along the way. The shift to kingdom of God thinking is not easy. As Jesus says, his kingdom is not from this world. What a blessing that is! If his kingdom was from this world, we would not experience the evil and suffering that we do. If his kingdom was from this world, we would not hear of war, poverty, hunger, mass shootings, or the fear of others. There is hope in his kingdom not being of this world!

The disciples knew that there was something different about Jesus. As Nathanael reveals in the first chapter, there was an understanding that Jesus was the king of Israel. However, it was not a kingship like they had seen before. It is not a kingship like we have witnessed today. He expected no special treatment and did not regard himself as better than anyone else. He did not seclude himself from the people and was quite often seen eating with those in society that no one else would break bread. The Reign of Christ is one that is expressed through love. The love Christ shows for the world is reflected in the freedom that comes to all of humanity. That freedom includes the freedom from sin and the freedom from death. This freedom is everlasting and is a freedom that will not be found in any country or monarchy. It is a freedom that comes only to us through the sheer grace of God.

The grace of God comes to us born in our own likeness and walks alongside us. The grace of God brings us to the cross where we encounter the ultimate grace and love poured out for all. We are invited to be a part of this in the waters of baptism and every time we come to the Lord’s table.  It is in these gifts of the sacraments that we encounter our Lord, who is and who was and who is to come.

 

 

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Living our Faith: Money

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November 11, 2018

Mark 12:38-44, 1 Kings 17:8-16

Who remembers the television show, Silver Spoons?

It aired in the early to mid-eighties and was about a wealthy business owner that finds out he has a 12-year old son, Ricky. The lifestyle that Ricky learns to become accustom was a major part of the show. I wanted that same lifestyle after watching the show, and in a way, I did have it. I did not need to worry about where food or the necessities of life came from. And quite often, if I wanted something, I would usually get it. This was great as a kid. However, it taught me very little about the value of money. As soon as I turned 16, I got my first job and spent money nearly as quickly as I earned it. I did have a savings account, but it was quite often in need of a little tender loving care. I may not have been completely greedy, but my priorities were not always in the right place.

The values that we learn growing up quite often follow us into adulthood. There is possibility for change. Surrounding ourselves with the right people makes a big difference and at times can require us to step outside of our comfort zone. It is here, that we can learn a lot from Jesus. While quite often we are concerned about the end game, are we going to get into heaven; Jesus is concerned about how we are living our life today.

This morning we are given the story of two widows. First, in 1 Kings, Elijah is instructed by the Lord to find the widow and ask her to provide him with sustenance so that he may continue in his travels. There is a little hesitancy on her part as she just has enough meal and oil to make a loaf of bread for herself and her son as they prepare to die because of the drought.

In our gospel lesson this morning, it is a widow that gives to the offering in the temple. She is not concerned with her appearance or anything of that sort. Her story is a counter to the one of the scribes at the beginning of the lesson. The scribes are more concerned about how they look, that they garner respect from others in the marketplace, and that they have the best seats in the synagogue and at the banquet tables. It is the scribes that take advantage of the widows of their time. It appears that their chief concern is the light that shines on them. The scribes’ greed overshadows any concern that they may possibly have for their neighbors.

So, when we think about greed in our society today, it is nothing new. Greed stems back to the beginning of humanity. Many of our problems today can be rooted in the greed that is fostered within our culture and the lack of care that is shown for the least in society. Our society is only going to be made better when we reach out and help our fellow brothers and sisters when they need it the most. Greed is not healthy, and it strains the very fabric of our beings. It is witnessed throughout society and one popular film I grew up watching is full of greed. That film is Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, of course, the older version with Gene Wilder. The children portrayed in the movie are all about the greed: Augustus Gloop cannot get enough chocolate; Violet Beauregarde needs to have a piece of chewing gum because she thinks she is entitled to it; Veruca Salt wants a golden goose and she wants it now; Mike Teavee needs to be in the spotlight. Charlie Bucket is not immune to the greed either as him and Grandpa Joe can’t stop their desire to try the Fizzy Lifting Drinks.

Yet, it is Charlies actions that are like the widow in the gospel lesson that he hands everything back over to Willy Wonka. His family’s future could have been all made if he just took the everlasting gobstopper to Mr. Slugworth!

Jesus is the one that speaks up for the children, widows, and those on the fringes of society. The widow placing her two coins into the offering plate reflects the love that she has for God, because she knows she is loved. It is the same with the widow that is willing to give all she has to Elijah. In their faith, they trust that there will be enough. Shane Claiborne makes the comment in our series we have been using, that “God made enough for everyone’s need, not enough for everyone’s greed.”

We are all here this morning because of our faith. A faith that has been instilled within us from the time we encountered the Holy Trinity in the waters of baptism. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are reassured of new life and every time we encounter communion, we are reminded of Jesus’ saving grace and his love for us. May we remember his generosity as we give freely of ourselves.

Let us pray. God of love, we give thanks for the stories of the widows in our lessons this morning. May their devotion and faith be a foundation for us to build our faith. May our generosity come through the love that we have for you. Amen

Living Our Faith: Community

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November 4, 2018 All Saints Day

John 11:32-44

“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world. . . . 

This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. . . . I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.

Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed. . . . But this cannot be seen, only believed and ‘understood’ by a peculiar gift.”

This quote from Thomas Merton comes from his book, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. It provides a vision of what we want to see in a community. The realization of everyone living together as one. In Jesus Christ, we are called to live together in community with our brother and sisters, loving and supporting the other.

We can come to the realization that Thomas Merton does, however, we first encounter brokenness and despair. For the people of Bethany, the people are mourning the loss of Lazarus. Mary and Martha are at a loss because they were hoping that Jesus may come to help heal their brother the same way that he has healed many others throughout the countryside. It is Mary that we hear say to Jesus, “If only you were here!” Mary knows Jesus and the power and authority to heal and if he would have been present at the time her brother died, he would still be alive. In the brokenness that the community of Bethany has encountered, doubt begins to set in and people begin to wonder if Jesus truly is able to do the things he has promised. In a way, they have excluded Jesus from their community and set their sites on the truth that Lazarus is dead.

It is easy for us to exclude people from community. We don’t invite them in. We ignore them. Amid this, we experience brokenness. At times it appears our communities are torn apart. It can happen at any time. It can happen during natural disasters, like hurricane Michael in Florida. It can happen in mass shootings like at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh a little over a week ago. We are bombarded with reminders that heaven has not came to earth yet and that our world is still full of evil. From the outside, it appears that communities are easily shattered.

Despite the evil that pervades us, communities are present to raise up those that need a boost. We may quickly hear of the death and destruction, but the community that is quite often raised up from it is even greater. Communities are made stronger as they struggle together and look for a sense of belonging, safety, companionship, and relationship. New communities, or at least new realizations of communities, have arose time and time again out of the death and destruction that we quite often hear of through the news. The communities that come through these struggles are transformed into a new thing as they grow and are challenged. They get better together.

While Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, the community rejoices. It is a sign of God’s saving grace that has come to reside in their community. It is a chance to witness Jesus and the healing he is bringing to the world. Jesus does not unbind Lazarus, he calls the community to work together to unbind him. It is God coming to live among mortals as we read in Revelation.

The church is a place of community if we are open with one another and support one another in our struggles and temptations. We can be present for one another when we do not know where else to turn. We can bring love and support in the name of Jesus Christ.

If we are honestly following the word of God, we are brought to a sense of community as we learn to love our sisters and brothers. The city of Pittsburgh has come together in the aftermath of the shooting last weekend at Tree of Life and the local Islamic center had raised over $70,000 in the first few days following the tragedy. The communities in Florida devastated by Hurricane Michael are banding together to support one another along with disaster relief organizations throughout the country.

In Richmond, we practice living in community by supporting MCREST, and working with our neighbors from other churches. Community comes in many forms. Thomas Merton’s vision of seeing each other as God sees us, is what living into community is all about. As he says, if we did see everyone this way, “There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed.”

It is in the promise of the Resurrection, that Jesus welcomes us to a new life. A life surrounded by all the saints that have gone before us. A life that is brimming over with the goodness of God and we are embraced for eternity.

Let us pray. God, you draw us in to community to be with one another so that we may see Christ in our sisters and brothers. May you continue to be present with us in our brokenness and provide a peace that comes by gathering together. Amen.